We may see the future become the present if Chris Weidman is able to somehow take out Anderson Silva at UFC 162 this weekend, but while two of MMA’s current stars are set to compete on Saturday night, UFC veterans Urijah Faber and Phil Davis will spend the day looking for the next big thing.

The UFC Fan Expo is set to hit Las Vegas this weekend, and along with it comes the first-ever MMA Combine, an event put together by the Faber and Davis and driven by MMADraft.com, a website dedicated to showcasing the skills of amateur MMA fighters. Participants in the combine will undergo both physical and mental tests along with striking and grappling evaluations, among other things, giving promoters a unique opportunity to check out up-and-coming fighters.

Although still in it’s beginning stages, “The MMA Draft” could eventually be a scouting tool for MMA talent scouts and promoters in the same way that Rivals.com is used to help evaluate amateur athletes in other sports. It’s something the sport desperately needs. With no clear-cut way to evaluate amateur prospects, professional organizations are able to pay young fighters next to nothing for their first few bouts as pros, but if amateur fighters can enter the professional ranks after building a bit of hype with their Combine performances, they’ll be able to create a bidding war between promotions looking for their services.

The ability to make even slightly more cash as a fighter early in your career is a huge advantage for an up-and-coming fighter, and “The MMA Draft” has the potential to make that happen. It’s pretty common knowledge in the MMA community that the life of a professional fighter isn’t easy, and unless you’re a fighter like Georges St-Pierre or Jon Jones, surviving on two to three fights a year can be a challenge. The last few months have been full of both current and former UFC fighters criticizing the level of pay even at the highest level of the sport, which makes it hard to imagine how fighters that are competing in smaller promotions can even survive.

However, as tough as it is to live as a professional mixed martial artist, it’s pretty much impossible to survive as an amateur fighter for too long. Even if many pro fighters believe they deserve to make more money, at the end of the day they still leave the arena with a paycheck. That isn’t the case for a lot of the amateur fighters, and other than a few sponsors, there’s no way for a fighter in training to make money in MMA. As a result, many amateur fighters end up competing just a handful of times before jumping to the big leagues. In doing so, they become a professional before they’re ready to compete at the next level.

In other professional sports, amateur players are given collegiate scholarships and the resources needed to help them grow into professional athletes. In MMA, the best an amateur fighter can do is to join a well-known camp and hope that their high-profile teammates can help them gain some notoriety. Meanwhile, collegiate athletes like Tim Tebow, Derrick Rose and Brittney Griner were all able to make themselves into popular—and more importantly, marketable—athletes before they even turned pro. Amateur MMA fighters aren’t going to become as celebrated as collegiate athletes anytime soon, but the amount of financial and promotional help an amateur fighter gets compared to their football or basketball counterpart is ridiculously lopsided.

The way things are at the moment, it’s far too difficult for a fighter to truly develop as an amateur before turning pro. The money is scarce even when a fighter reaches the professional level, and spending a few years as an amateur before making the leap into the big leagues isn’t always an option for a fighter on a budget. However, if a fighter is able to impress with their skills at an event like the MMA Combine, they could potentially use resulting hype to gain sponsors or eventually earn more money when they turn pro.

This is a huge chance for potentially great fighters to get noticed before they hit the big time, but it’s an equally big opportunity for smaller promotions like Legacy FC or Resurrection Fighting Alliance to start finding future stars. Other than word of mouth, it’s hard to collect any information on a fighter making their professional debut and signing young fighters is pretty much luck of the draw at this point. “The MMA Draft” is not only giving these promoters an outlet to do some research on a potential signing, it’s giving them the opportunity to see some of the top amateurs in the sport live and in person this weekend.

Overall, The MMA Combine could be one of the most important new developments to hit MMA in quite some time. Smaller promotions will be paying close attention to this event and “The MMA Draft” as a whole, and it wouldn’t be surprising if UFC matchmakers Joe Silva and Sean Shelby and the UFC’s talent scouts end up keeping a close eye on the project as well. Simply put, “The MMA Draft” can completely revolutionize the way that MMA scouts discover new talent.

Photo: Urijah Faber (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

Vince Carey
Staff Writer

Vince Carey has been writing about the sport of mixed martial arts since 2010. Although he is just 21 years old, the Omaha-based writer is looking to provide readers with interesting content on all things related to MMA.